INDIA-OFFBEAT

Loktak Lake, Manipur


About 48km from Imphal, this shimmering blue lake is broken up into small lakelets by clumps of thick matted weeds (called phumdis). The lake is inhabited by local villagers who build thatched huts on these floating ‘islands’ and make their way about the lake in dugout canoes. More peculiar than floating villages are the large, perfectly circular fishing ponds created out of floating rings of weeds. The best view is atop the tourist bungalow on Sendra Island from where you can get a bird’s eye view of life on the lake.

Pochampally, Andhra Pradesh


Situated 42km from Hyderabad, Pochampally is a weavers’ village, where ‘ikat’ like designs on cotton and silk are painstakingly woven on mechanised and pit looms. Pochampally Handloom Weavers Co-op Society and Raj Kumar Handlooms are two of the best options when it comes to shopping there. The latter can also guide you to smaller villages where weavers work on pit looms in clusters of 20–25. There’s also a spartan museum, Chenethakala Kendram, and a temple dedicated to Vinobha Bhave Nagarjuna that’s worth a look.

Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu


Not many know that the Danes discovered this part of the world well before the French or British. Tharangambadi (formerly Tranquebar) – the ‘land of the singing waves’ – lies 15 km north of Karaikal and was established by the Danish East India Company in 1620 as a trading post. The oldest, most imposing structure here is the atmospheric Fort Dansborg, which, today, is home to a fascinating museum containing porcelain figurines, crockery, yellowed manuscripts and other relics.

Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh

Spread over 1985 sq km of dense forest land, this ecological hotspot contains a mindboggling array of animal and plant species, with habitats ranging from warm tropical plains to icy Himalayan highlands. Namdapha is the only park in India to have four big cat species (leopard, tiger, clouded leopard and snow leopard). It’s also a birdwatcher’s delight, with around 500 species recorded.

Varca, Cavelossim & Mobor, Goa


Heading south from Benaulim, you’ll travel a road lined with beautiful Portuguese relics and paddy fields to drift into a 10km coastal stretch. The beaches of Varca, Cavelossim and Mobor dot the pristine shore here. A seemingly endless palm-backed strip of sand punctuated by the grounds of a luxury resort or a whitewashed church, Varca is quiet, calm and almost entirely hawker-free, making it easy to find a quiet spot all to yourself. Located 3km south of Cavelossim, Mobor is one of the most picturesque spots in Goa with simple beach shacks serving good food.

Mahakuta & Banashankari, Karnataka


Mahakuta is located 14km from Badami, and is connected to it by a secret, eucalyptus-lined 3km pathway, the gateway of which is flanked by skeletal figures of Kala and Kali. The main attraction of this walled complex is the Mahakuteshvar Temple, the surrounding 7th-century shrines and the large tank fed by a natural spring. Situated just 5km from Badami, Banashankari Temple is not as old as the rest of the temples of the region, but holds great importance for pilgrims. The structure has used some of the late Chalukyan columns, but the most awe-inspiring feature is its lamp-studded tower, which is lit only on special occasions.

Topslip, Tamil Nadu


Topslip is a base to explore the Indira Gandhi (Annamalai) Wildlife Sanctuary. Regulated treks through the forest, accompanied by forest with vehicle and elephant safaris provide an excellent opportunity to experience the diverse flora and fauna of the area. You can also watch the safari elephants being fed at the elephant camp at 8.30am. For a more varied experience combine the trip with a visit to Parambikulam, 20 km away in Kerala.

Shravanabelagola, Karnataka


The massive statue of Bahubali, looking over the town of Shravanabelagola, is often seen in brochures of the Hassan-Belur-Halebidu circuit, and certainly deserves a detour. Though the town has no connect with the Hoysala temple trail, it can be conveniently clubbed on the same route. A centre for Jain pilgrimage, Shravanabelagola deserves a couple of hours. Also worth your time are the two temple hills of Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri. The monolithic statue of Lord Gomateshwara (Bahubali), 57ft tall, dwarfs anyone who ascends the steep rock steps of Vindhyagiri. Reach in time for the early morning prayers (8am), when devotees gather to chant. Mahamastakabhisheka, a festival celebrated every 12 years, is when the statue is bathed in consecrated water, milk, sugarcane juice and saffron paste. The next big day will be in 2018. Chandragiri, which houses an older set of Jain temples, is shorter and easier to climb; it has fewer tourists, so it is relatively peaceful.

 

 

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